On a roll for a good cause

Hundreds turn out to support Big Brothers Big Sisters in annual ‘Bowl For Kids’ Sake’

BRATTLEBORO — Last Saturday, hundreds of bowlers of all ages flocked to Brattleboro Bowl for Youth Services' 32nd annual Bowl for Kids' Sake, the largest fundraising event of the year for its Big Brothers Big Sisters program.

Participants join teams and raise money in the weeks leading up to the event, then spend a fun-filled day bowling, winning prizes, and having fun in support of the organization.

With several different types of programs in place, Big Brothers Big Sisters serves some 200 kids in the Brattleboro area every year. In addition to the traditional adult-kid mentoring program (with nearly 150 active mentors), the organization has been implementing new mentoring programs within schools, partnering students with others of their own age with disabilities, as well as high school students with middle school students.

The programs have shown lasting effects on mentors and mentees alike, with many relationships continuing many years into the future, even after formal oversight from Big Brothers Big Sisters has ceased.

More than 500 people participate, and event organizers estimate that these individuals drew their donations from at least 2,000 people, a quarter of which are from outside Windham County. This year's goal was $50,000, and Youth Services says it surpassed it by the end of the day, with more than $65,000 in donations and pledges collected.

Local sponsors, including People's United Bank, Brattleboro Subaru, and the Windham Southwest Teacher's Association, play a vital role by donating directly to Youth Services or providing in-kind donations, including various prizes to give away at the event or outlets for advertising.

“We have been supporting Bowl for Kids, Big Brothers Big Sisters, and Youth Services for a long time, specifically this event,” said Arne Hammarlund, the manager of community services at People's United Bank in Brattleboro. “The primary reason is because it benefits kids. When I look at the Windham County community, Youth Services plays such an important part in meeting the needs of our youth, and they do an exceptional job.”

Together, the money raised at this event provides one-third of the annual program budget for Big Brothers Big Sisters, according to program director Robert Szpila.

“Without this event, our program would be a lot smaller, we would serve a lot fewer kids, and the wait lists [right now, 80 youngsters are waiting to be matched with mentors] would be longer,” he said. “It's centrally important for us.”

In the 32-year history of the event in Brattleboro, Youth Services has learned that advertising through multiple channels is essential to gaining new participants and increasing community interest.

The planning committee, chaired by Betsy Gentile, works hard to advertise, decorating the window of People's United Bank on Main Street in Brattleboro, putting a banner over Main Street, and running ads in newspapers and radio.

However, on a certain level, this level of promotion is almost unnecessary in Windham County.

Szpila said local residents have shown a unique dedication to Big Brothers Big Sisters throughout the years.

“When I talk to other agencies across the country, they are blown away by the [small] size of our agency and the amount of money we are able to raise,” he said. “It's because the people in our community are awesome and generous and care about the people in our community. I've seen that in so many ways, not just in Bowl for Kids' Sake. I think it's because people really care about kids here and that's why it's so successful.”

Of course, the event still has room to grow, and Szpila and his colleagues intend to gain new participants and new donors.

Szpila said that donors are compelled “because they care about kids that are facing adversity. [The donors] just take a moment to empathize with kids who haven't been dealt all the greatest cards in life, and there are people in our community who are stepping up and helping them get resources to succeed.”

But another great reason to participate is that it is just fun.

“You feel great when you do something [to help these kids],” Szpila said. “When it's in an awesome bowling music environment, it feels even better.”

Linda Thurber of Brattleboro was again the top individual fundraiser, raising more than $1,500 from friends and colleagues in pledges, followed by Emily Tinkham and Annie Richards. Entergy's teams brought in the most pledges of any business at over $2,000.

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